Let me start by saying I’m a big fan of the opening game being played in Melbourne.
This will be the seventh match played in Melbourne and I certainly believe we should continue to showcase the opening Origin game in Melbourne.
The critics of relocating Origin games to Melbourne are failing to remember that Melbourne has produced many memorable “Origin moments”.
Melbourne hosted the first ever Origin match that was played outside of Sydney or Brisbane back in 1990. It was played in front of a sold out crowd at Olympic Park. NSW won that match and the series, and ended three years of Queensland dominance.
In 1994, Game Two was played at the MCG in front of 87,000 fans. At the time it was an Australian Rugby League record attendance.
The following year Origin football again returned to the MCG. Pre-match rumours of an all-in brawl were quickly realised when the now infamous ‘cattledog’ call was made by the Tom Raudonikis coached NSW side in the very first scrum.
And in 2006, at Etihad stadium, Darren Lockyer scored a try in the final minute of Game Three, to provide Queensland with their first series win since 2001 and the first of their record breaking six series victories.
Melbourne people today know a lot more about rugby league than they did in 1990. They are more aware of the players and the nuances of the game. It certainly makes for a great few days of rugby league in Melbourne, because a couple of days later you have the Storm v Broncos at AAMI Park. It is a great package.
Playing Origin footy was awesome, and the next best thing is being involved in a coaching capacity. Before I went to France to coach in 2009, I was a part of the Queensland camp and a part of the staff for the 2006, '07 and '08 series. Leaving that coaching position was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make, and I’d love to get the opportunity to get back involved in the Maroon camp.
This is the time you miss being a part of an Origin side. It is the most exciting time of the year outside of playing in a grand final.
You see the good players step-up at this time of year with Origin just around the corner.
Things can get a bit tired at club level, and the smell of Origin lifts everyone’s spirits. We saw it on Monday night with Greg Inglis’s performance, he was close to unstoppable and Todd Carney also had a massive game.
From a player’s point of view, the feeling of coming into camp is hard to explain. It has a distinctly different feel and different mentality from club footy. It is a really exciting time when you get into camp and get all your gear, everything is maroon. You are surrounded by the best players from different clubs and the entire Queensland coaching staff are all former Origin legends.
The State of Origin series is a very unique sporting rivalry. Arguably there is no other stand alone competition, anywhere else in the world that even comes close to the rivalry between the two states in rugby league.
As a Queensland kid, you dream of playing for the Maroons. You grow up with it bred into you. The success that Mal Meninga, his staff and the current Queensland team have enjoyed has ensured that the spirit and passion for Queensland lives on and the next generation of Queensland kids are dreaming of getting their opportunity to play for the Maroons. My advice to those kids – chase your dreams!
To the 2012 series:
If history has taught us anything it is it that the first game in State of Origin is crucial. The team that wins the first game nearly always goes on to win the series. NSW have the big advantage of having game two in Sydney. If Queensland lose the first game, they will have a mountain to climb trying to defend their title in enemy territory in Sydney. It would be a huge ask. This is the reason why a victory in the opening game is more important to Queensland than New South Wales from a series point of view.
Looking at the Queensland side, they obviously have a lot more stability and I’m not expecting too many surprises when big Mal reads out the team on Monday.
The Maroons backline picks itself. Slater at fullback, Darius Boyd and either Brent Tate or Melbourne Storm flyer Justin O’Neal will on the wings. In the centres Justin Hodges and Greg Inglis. Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk in the halves complement each other really well. That was evident when they played together for Australia against New Zealand in the Anzac Test. That’s a very exciting backline with plenty of speed, size and skill.
The most impressive thing for me over the last few years has been Queensland’s forwards. The pack has a great mix of big strong men and hard workers. These guys continue to plough through the middle of the field earning every metre. There are no easy metres in Origin football yet these players continue to find them which provides enough space for Lockyer, Thurston and co to weave their magic.
We all know how good the backline is, but it all starts with the Maroons forwards and they have been absolutely outstanding over the previous successful six campaigns. They will need to be very good again if Queensland are to win.
Let’s assume that Cameron Smith and the four forwards who played for Australia against New Zealand earlier this year will be automatically selected, then you add Matt Scott, Petero Civonecieva, Nate Myles, Corey Parker, Ashley Harrison and Jacob Lillyman who have all played their roles in Queensland’s dominance over the past few years.
You would also expect that young Bronco Matt Gillett will be in the 17-man squad as well. We also need to select a utility player for our bench to cover a few positions. Ben Barba or Daly Cherry–Evans will fill this spot. Either player will do a great job for the Maroons if selected.
So surely you one-eyed cockroaches can see that even with the retirement of the great Darren Lockyer there is plenty of depth to put a very good team together for Game One and the rest of the series. Bring it on!
I know New South Wales and Ricky Stuart have done a pretty good job of setting up this idea via the media that they don’t know which players will be selected or they are all injured, but Queensland won’t be buying into that for a second.
I know Sticky well enough to suggest that he will have done his homework and will know what he is doing with the NSW team. I was involved in 20 State of Origin games as a player and I never came across a weak NSW team.
The other thing people forget is how close the series have been over the last six years. Most games have been very tight and even last year with a bit of luck, NSW could have led the series 2-0. It hasn’t been lopsided by any stretch.
I am predicting a very close game to start the series, and from a totally biased, loyal and passionate Queenslander, it is imperative that we win the first game.
My prediction: Queensland 24-18.
My team: Slater, Boyd, Inglis, Hodges, Tate or O’Niell, Thurston, Cronk, Scott, Smith, Civoniceva, Taylor, Thaiday, Myles. Interchange (from): Shillington, Hannant, Gillett, Harrison, Parker, Lillyman, Barba, Cherry-Evans.